The Efate land grab story we broke on Monday has got international attention — Radio Australia’s current affairs program Pacific Beat broadcast a story about the land grab on their afternoon program today. Here’s the transcript, taken from the Pacific Beat website, where you can also listen to the audio version of the story.
New concerns over loss of traditional land in Vanuatu
Landowners in Vanuatu are asking questions as to why a substantial parcel of traditional land has been handed over to investors, while court action challenging the lease is still underway.
Just before Christmas, Lands Minister James Bule, signed approval for 2300 hectares of prime land overlooking Vanuatu’s only World Heritage Area to be leased by investors with connections in New Caledonia.
Land and Justice Party Leader, Ralph Regenvanu, says the transaction should be investigated.
Presenter: Jemima Garrett
Speaker: Land and Justice Party Leader, Ralph Regenvanu, Siobhan McDonnell, from the Australian National University
GARRETT: This latest parcel of land sits high on the hills on the north coast of Efate – Vanuatu’s main island. It overlooks Lelepa Island and the Roi Mata World Heritage Area. For the last 3 years the traditional landowners, the Mangaliliu and Lelepa people, have been been working to protect it for future generations. Ralph Regenvanu, is Leader of Vanuatu’s land and Justice Party.
REGENVANU: It is very dissappointing [sic] to see a Minister like James Bule, who is a senior Minister completely going against the wishes of the custom landonwers which is what, you know, our consitution says, custom landowners are the ones who should have the total rights over their own land.
As predicted here in September, foreign business interests are behind the land grab of customary land in the Mangaliliu area, aided and abetted by the Minister of Lands, James Bule, and lessee Kalorip Poilapa. See the lease documents below.
Minister Bule helpfully signed the transfer of Poilapa’s ‘lease’ on the 2,300ha parcel of land over to cattle farmers and land developers Michel Monvoisin and Ludovic Bolliet just before Christmas, for the tiny sum of vt2,000,000, or just vt870 a hectare. At this price, the whole island of Efate could be purchased for just 78 million vatu. The lease area is larger than the entire Port Vila area.
Two years ago, the legitimate kastom land owners, the people of Mangaliliu and Lelepa, began work on creating a legal mechanism to protect their birthright—their land—from land grabs by foreign (and domestic) land speculators. But the Minister of Lands at the time, Steven Kalsakau, ignored them and instead gave approval to a lease on the land to Kalorip Poilapa of Mele, who, it is now clear, was acting as a proxy for Monvoisin and Bolliet. When this was made public, Kalsakau lied and said he didn’t sign the consent, but we proved that he did.
And the saddest part? Under Vanuatu’s current laws, this ‘thievery’ is perfectly legal. The Land Reform Act [Cap 123] gives the Minister for Lands the power to approve leases on behalf of customary owners if the land is in dispute. All you have to do is create a fake ‘dispute’, go to the current Minister of Lands, and he’ll sign the lease for you… although a bag of cash is said to help focus Ministers’ minds.
As we understand it, injunctions were already in place over the original lease to Poilapa. So further dealing should not have been possible.
The 2006 National Land Summit resolved to put an end to this unfortunate loophole, but when this was put to the Council of Ministers in 2008, they rejected it. They wouldn’t want to bite the hand that feeds them, would they?
Last month saw Man Efate out on the streets of Vila protesting the death of an elderly man. Will we see Man Efate take to the streets again to protest the legalised robbery of their graon by their own Government?
We must close this loophole, and now.
Lelema-bule-transfer-to-monvoisin.pdf (PDF, 683kb)